We live in a petty and vindictive time, and it’s shrinking every moment. As our nation’s history turns another suspenseful page, perhaps we should be thinking big rather than small, and open some windows onto wider vistas. At the very least, we’ll get some fresh air.
So what better time to revisit President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 letter to E.T.? It is the first letter in history to reach extrasolar space.
Carter’s three-paragraph letter accompanied the Voyager spacecraft. The probe made history in 2013 when it finally, officially ventured beyond our solar system and entered interstellar space: “Even if Voyager’s distance traveled is not even a gnat’s eyelash when considered against the unfathomable scale of our universe, it was still an exciting landmark, one that reminds us that our species is capable of great accomplishments when we’re not so facedown in the mud that we lose sight of the stars.” Today, that letter is spinning beyond our Solar System at eleven miles a second.
Carter was not the only human to send a message on Voyager. The so-called “Golden Records” included on the Voyager craft contained tons of images, sounds, and information about our species and our world – a sort of time capsule of the State of the Planet.
According to the website Giant Freakin Robot: “A NASA committee headed by the late Carl Sagan decided on what information should be put on the so-called ‘Golden Records.’ They include greetings in 55 different languages, various “sounds of Earth,” a 90-minute selection of music from all around the globe, many different images, and even recordings of brainwaves. Sadly, Sagan’s pick of the Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’ was vetoed by EMI at the time. Turning your nose up at possible interstellar publicity? Poor form.”
According to David Reneke‘s astronomy blog, the “Golden Record” stowed onboard contained greetings in languages from Sumerian to Welsh, as well as short speeches from UN delegates interwoven with whale sounds.
“My dear friends in outer space,” one delegate intones over a collage of cetacean murmurs, “as you probably know, my country is situated on the west coast of the continent of Africa, a land mass more or less in the shape of a question mark.” But how are extraterrestrials to know what a question mark is?